Now is not the time for apologies.
When you coach one of the nine undefeated teams in the country and, oh yeah, your team happens to be ranked No. 1 in the nation in both major polls, it’s hard to feel any remorse about winning a couple of those games in ugly fashion.
Would head coach Bill Self prefer that his Jayhawks didn’t have to recover from 12-point deficits against Louisiana, Marquette and Stanford en route to their 9-0 start? Of course.
But the 16th-year Kansas basketball coach said Monday he felt no need to justify the way KU has won some of its games.
“I think beating Villanova by 1, 3, 5, 7, it doesn’t make any difference. It’s, you beat Villanova. So for me, that doesn’t register,” Self responded, when presented with that notion.
Even so, Self quickly referenced other recent outings when the Jayhawks should have played at a higher level.
“That New Mexico State win, even though they’ve got a nice club, it shouldn’t have been a 3-point game. And then the Stanford win — those would be the two wins I would say, more than anything, that you would think that we could have had the chance to control the game a lot more than which we did. Both games, we had to come from behind to win,” Self said. “People can say whatever about that.”
The truth of the matter is neither Self nor his players should harbor too many regrets about KU’s scoring margin (83rd nationally, at +9.6 points per game) or trailing opponents in second halves or leading for less than half the game in wins over Stanford and New Mexico State.
The Jayhawks are winning, and they’re mostly doing so against a higher level of competition than other Power 5 programs.
According to KenPom.com’s national rankings entering the week, KU (ranked No. 3) owns victories over four top-40 teams: No. 8 Michigan State, No. 36 Marquette, No. 9 Tennessee and No. 18 Villanova.
And the Jayhawks’ victories over No. 111 Vermont, No. 145 Louisiana, No. 103 Stanford, No. 74 Wofford and No. 79 New Mexico State haven’t exactly destroyed the quality of their schedule. On the eve of their home matchup with No. 168 South Dakota, the Jayhawks ranked sixth on KenPom in strength of schedule, with only Purdue, fourth in that category, better among major Division I programs.
“Basically, we’ve played the second-hardest schedule in the country, technically, so far,” Self said. “And we still have at Arizona State and at Kentucky to go as far as headliner-type games.”
This KU team doesn’t possess the flash or surefire NBA talent of Duke (No. 2 in both the Associated Press and Coaches polls, but No. 1 according to KenPom). Still, the Jayhawks have won games this season when it appeared they wouldn’t. And there’s value in those experiences that can’t be tracked by metrics.
Most observers would tell you KU has yet to meet its potential. It’s true. And the Jayhawks would agree. That doesn’t mean they should ask for forgiveness because they have six single-digit victories.
“It’s justified to ask the question that we haven’t been as impressive as maybe some other teams that you’d think would be the first-ranked team,” Self said, “but I think our resume is pretty impressive.”
And, of course, it won’t take any hits when Big 12 play begins next month. Entering this week, KenPom had eight of the league’s teams ranked in the top 40: No. 3 KU, No. 10 Texas Tech, No. 20 Iowa State, No. 23 Kansas State, No. 28 TCU, No. 30 Oklahoma, No. 31 Texas and No. 40 West Virginia.